Sweden plans to scrap controversial indefinite detentions for crime suspects

Sweden plans to scrap controversial indefinite detentions for crime suspects
The four-week detention of rapper ASAP Rocky meant Sweden's detention policy was in the headlines last year. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT
Sweden could soon be changing its laws which allow suspects to be detained without charge indefinitely.

The laws have long been criticized by human rights activists and came back into the spotlight last year with the four-week detention of American rapper ASAP Rocky. The musician was eventually convicted of assault following a brawl in Stockholm, and he and two friends were handed suspended sentences. 

ASAP Rocky's detention prompted calls from US fans to boycott Swedish companies, while President Donald Trump took to Twitter to criticize his Swedish counterpart Stefan Löfven for not intervening. The rapper, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, was detained between July 5th until the district court hearing concluded on August 2nd.

In fact, detentions of this kind aren't that unusual in Sweden, and there's no equivalent to the bail system that allows suspects to be released against a financial guarantee.

There are three stages to detention of criminal suspects in Sweden. At first, the suspect is typically apprehended by police (gripen), after which they can be held for questioning for up to 12 hours.

Then the prosecutor may decide to keep them in custody (anhållen) for up to three days, which can only happen if there are grounds to arrest the suspect. After that, the prosecutor may request to have the suspect remanded (begärs häktad), in which case there must be a detention hearing within 24 hours.

To remand a suspect, the court must believe there is “probable cause” to believe the suspect committed a crime that could result in imprisonment of at least one year.

They must also rule that there is a risk of the suspect fleeing, committing further crime, or harming the investigation, in order to keep them in custody. If these criteria are met and the suspect is remanded (häktad), the prosecutor has 14 days to bring the case to trial – but this can be extended, in theory indefinitely, if the court approves an extension.

Under new proposals put forward by the government, the maximum length of detention would be six months, and three months for suspects aged under 18. Exceptions to this would only be made in certain special circumstances, such as if the crime is especially hard to investigate due to organized crime connections.

Other changes proposed in the government's new bill relate to how minors are treated in detention, and restrict the possibility of isolation. Current practice has been criticized by the Justice Ombudsman, Children's Ombudsman, and the UN among others. One of the new suggestions is that anyone under 18 should have the right to spend time with staff or other people for at least four hours a day during detention.

And the decision of which restrictions to apply to the detention would be passed from the prosecutor to the court. Restrictions have applied to roughly two thirds of all detainees, and can mean that detainees are prevented from interaction with other detainees, watching TV or reading the newspaper, among other things.

The proposals have been referred to Sweden's Council on Legislation for consultation and, if they go ahead, are intended to come into force from July 1st this year.


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